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Paul Bryant
August 29, 1966
Back at Alabama, Bryant's brand of helmet-busting, gang-tackling football brought the Crimson Tide to instant success—and instant waves of controversy
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August 29, 1966

Hit 'em Harder: The Only Game That Can Win

Back at Alabama, Bryant's brand of helmet-busting, gang-tackling football brought the Crimson Tide to instant success—and instant waves of controversy

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We got back on Tuesday and it was in all the papers, and everybody was yelling for Holt's scalp, so I called Dodd, and he was saying buddy this and buddy that and, son of a gun, I hung up and the next paper that came out was worse than the first one had been.

Then I did a small thing I wish I hadn't done. I had one of my assistants go down with the game film and show it to the Alabama writers, had him point out all the violations Tech had committed. They made more than we did by a bushel. Dodd resented this, and I don't blame him. It was a small thing, and if I had it to do over I wouldn't, but our people thought Furman Bisher and those other writers were trying to destroy Holt.

Well, you talk about irony. What Holt did to Graning was child's play next to what that big No. 88 did to our All-America guard, Wayne Freeman, in our game with Tech two years later. You want to see something vicious, you look at the films of that game. It was the same year Tech's other end resigned from the team after kicking that Auburn boy in the head. The game is over, we've got it won 27-11 and on the last play we have the ball and this guy comes running several yards and hits Freeman with an elbow. Freeman is just standing there relaxed, and I guarantee you I was afraid he had killed him. My coaches wanted to blast them on it, but I said no.

I wrote Dodd a letter and called his attention to it. I told him, Bobby, the only reason I mention it is because you might have missed it in the film and I knew you would want to know it. I think our boy's going to recover. Whether it'll be in time for him to play anymore, I don't know, but I know you wouldn't want it to happen again.

A week or so later I got a letter thanking me and saying it really was a flagrant violation, and it wouldn't happen again. And, as you know, they ended the series after the 1964 game, which our boys won 24-7, and I was sorry. But with two-platoon football coming back I thought it was just as well we weren't playing anymore. If you've got a lot of ability—which Tech usually has—you don't have to get in real good shape to win with the two-platoon.

It's just as well, too, because sooner or later I was going to get killed by a flying whiskey bottle in Grant Field. The visiting team sits right in front of the students, and on four or five occasions whiskey bottles were thrown at me. I was hit twice, and one bottle went right by my ear, right out on the field, and nobody did a thing about it. In 1964, when we went down there for the last time, just for the psychology of it I wore a helmet onto the field before the game. Tonto Coleman asked me what the helmet was for, and I told him about those whiskey bottles. And he was very upset about it.

One thing more about that period in there. After the 1962 game, the one they beat us 7-6, I did something that was very difficult for me, under the circumstances. There must have been 3,000 people around their dressing room. I walked through that crowd thinking I'd probably get my throat cut, and went in there and called their captains out of the showers and shook hands with them. I congratulated Dodd again, and when I was going back through the crowd a woman who had a boy on Tech's team told me how proud she was. I said she had reason to be. I did all that, and I didn't mean a darn thing I said, either, but mama and papa would have been proud of me.

I believe this, that the reputation I had as a driver preceded me to Alabama. I doubt that the Holt-Graning incident would ever have reached the proportions it did if I had not had that reputation. Then there probably would never have been that first story in The Saturday Evening Post claiming I was an advocate of brutal football. I wouldn't have sued the Post over that, and if I hadn't sued the Post I doubt that there ever would have been the second story, the real filthy, malicious one that said Wally Butts and I fixed a football game. The whole thing just snowballed but, looking back on it all, if it meant changing my methods, my program, to avoid the heartaches that followed, then I'd just as soon have the heartaches.

Listen, don't you know if I didn't believe way down inside what I was talking about we never could have gone ahead and won and gone to a bowl with all this stuff going on? As long as you know within yourself and the guys with you know it, that you have confidence in the plan, you just know you are not going to fail. I never had a doubt about that. The idea of molding men means a lot to me. I don't know if I've molded any but, I'll tell you, it makes you feel like you've done right when a guy like Pat Trammell, who's a doctor now, stands up and says how much of an effect you had on his life, that you had more to do with influencing his life than anybody except his father.

I'm afraid I've hurt some of the others, but I've never asked anything of my players I wouldn't do myself or had not done at one time or another. I always go back to Hank Crisp, flailing away at us with that leather nub on the end of his arm when he was an assistant coach at Alabama. People ask me if I ever kicked a guy, and I say, yes, I have. And if a boy lets me kick him and slam him around and he doesn't kick back I've said I didn't want him. I'd demonstrate on a boy, show him how to block or do this or that and really let him have it, and then say, "Now you show me," and lots of times they'd belly up and really dehorn me. One boy did it and realized what he'd done and started running off, and I had to call him, "Hey, come back. You're my kind of player." I wish I could demonstrate now like I used to. I can show them how not to do it, but I can't get down with them like I used to, and I miss that.

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